Chennai Super Kings’ sixth success story with NRR is not luck, it is clarity of thought
Chennai Super Kings (CSK) have secured a top-two finish in the league stage of IPL 2023 ahead of Lucknow Super Giants, courtesy of a superior NRR. Shashwat Kumar wonders whether the four-time champions have now mastered NRR calculations.
CSK have been the most consistent team in the IPL, reaching the playoffs 12 times (out of 14) and contesting the final on nine occasions. More often than not, they have relied on MS Dhoni’s astute leadership and his ability to extract every ounce of performance from his team.
What has perhaps flown under the radar, though, is how much clarity he and CSK have on NRR calculations – something that has helped them finish near the top of the standing across numerous league stages of the tournament.
Since the inception of the IPL, CSK have benefited because of a superior NRR five times (excluding this season). In 2010, there was a four-way tie on 14 points to decide two semi-final spots. CSK had the highest NRR of them all and finished third.
A year later, with the IPL adopting the current playoff format, finishing in the top two was more important. CSK mustered 18 points from 14 games, and snuck up above Mumbai Indians courtesy of a better NRR. They went on to defeat Royal Challengers Bangalore in Qualifier 1, before beating them again in the final to lift their second consecutive title.
In 2012, CSK, competing for fourth position, finished with the same number of points as RCB, scraping past them again because of a higher NRR. The 2019 season, meanwhile, saw them finish second and above Delhi Capitals, despite having the same points-tally. In 2021, they secured a top-two finish – once more, by having a better NRR than RCB.
In each of these seasons, CSK made the final and won four of those summit clashes – the 2012 season was the only exception. The only time they have suffered because of an inferior NRR was in 2014, when they were pipped to second spot by Kolkata Knight Riders.
So, it is no fluke that CSK enjoy the rub of the green when it comes to NRR. If anything, they may even be planning along those lines from the start.
They prefer not losing big over winning big, which seems counter-intuitive to what people believe NRR is about. Whenever speaking about NRR, the inclination is to talk about how a side can improve their own, how they can chase down a particular target quicker, or how they can bowl out to record a bigger margin of victory. It is almost never about mitigating the damage, and cumulatively controlling the NRR rather than taking a massive hit in pursuit of victory.
That is what CSK have done this season. The three games they have lost while batting first have all been dragged to the penultimate over or beyond. They have lost twice while chasing, with their largest defeat being only a 32-run loss to Rajasthan Royals.
Speaking of RR – they annihilated KKR at the Eden Gardens and won two games by more than 50 runs. But they lost by 112 runs to RCB and also saw Gujarat Titans chase down 119 inside 14 overs, illustrating just how much their NRR has fluctuated and how it left their qualification hopes hanging by a thread right up until Mumbai Indians’ final victory over Sunrisers Hyderabad.
After the season CSK have had so far, Dhoni’s words after their home defeat to RR make even more sense now. Chasing 176, CSK suffered a middle-overs collapse and were reeling at 113-6 after 15 overs. They crawled along for the next two overs, and then had to hunt down 54 off the last three overs. They fell short by three runs.
Dhoni was quick to point out that CSK were thinking about NRR and that they did not want to lose by a huge margin. The fact that he said it, in what was CSK’s fourth game of the season, and with the culmination of the league stages a month and a half away, is revealing.
In a league where qualification or a top-two finish usually boils down to fine margins, none are as nuanced as NRR. Understandably, it is a tough art to master, for so many contingencies and possibilities exist. CSK, though, seem to be frontrunner in manipulating NRR to their advantage.
Had the four-time winners benefitted once or twice, it might have been dubbed luck. But CSK have done it six times now. Sometimes, you make your own luck.
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